HBO premiered the new seven-part miniseries MARE OF EASTTOWN this week. Set in a fictional small Pennsylvanian town, the show follows a young grandmother who is the local detective. Unfortunately, she’s made no progress on a missing girl’s case for a year, and the residents are losing faith in her abilities to keep them safe. When a body is found, the protagonist faces angry neighbors, an unappreciative family, and a thankless job with her usual cynicism and rugged determination.
Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce, Revolutionary Road) stars in MARE OF EASTTOWN as Mare Sheehan, the aforementioned detective. Mare is no-nonsense and no-fluff, barely taking time to eat something, forget healthy, and with questionable hygiene. She has a difficult life, housing four generations under her roof, including her mother, Helen (Jean Smart, Watchmen, Legion), who seems to prefer Mare’s ex-husband, Frank (David Denman, The Office), to her daughter. Mare’s teen offspring, Siobhan (Angourie Rice, Spider-Man: Far From Home), is typically moody, and Mare also has her dead son’s baby. So even without the failed investigation hanging over her head, Mare has plenty on her plate.
Winslet is excellent in MARE OF EASTTOWN, of course, and one would expect no less. She also makes strong acting choices, so it isn’t a surprise that the series is very well-made and specific. It’s extremely grounded, one of the more realistic cop shows I’ve seen, and the cast is all-around great. Even Winslet’s strange “Delco” accent works in context, only coming out here and there.
One wonders why Mare has such a challenging life. In high school, she was “Miss Lady Hawk Herself,” the title of episode one, a popular athlete. But she seems to have peaked then, and having stayed local, she wears the old title around her as heavily as any of her other burdens. Being reminded of the event in episode one doesn’t help her mood, which appears to be sour at the best of times, even though her chosen profession and full house indicates she cares more than she lets on.
Besides the amazing Smart, there are some other supporting players to note. It’s bittersweet to see Phyllis Somerville (The Big C, Stoker) pop up among the neighbors after her passing last year. She plays a bit different of a role than most I’m familiar with from her, and her presence is certainly a draw. Guy Pearce, Winslet’s love interest in Mildred Pierce, is also present as Mare’s sexual hookup in MARE OF EASTTOWN. Theirs is an odd chemistry, but it works. Evan Peters (WandaVision) doesn’t make an appearance in the premiere, but is set to star in the series, as well, playing a detective brought in from the outside to help Mare, which I’m sure she won’t appreciate at all.
The girl whose body is found is a focus of a lot of the first hour. We see her situation before she ends up dead, painting a picture of who she is and shining light on a few suspects. This is a good way to round out the crime, making Mare’s investigation mean something to the viewers, who already care about the deceased.
MARE OF EASTTOWN is super grounded, gritty, and slow. It is the definition of prestige drama with none of the prestige in the setting or characters’ lives, as the town and people are pretty run-down. It’s definitely awards bait, so if you want to be ready for the Emmys and Golden Globes, you’ll want to make sure you tune in. But it’s also pretty entertaining, too, if for no other reason than to watch some actors at the height of their game doing what they do best.
MARE OF EASTTOWN airs Sundays on HBO.